by Touré Roberts
My father was a strict disciplinarian, and I dreaded weekend visits with him, sometimes to the point of tears. He was hard on me, and I was afraid of him. It was in stark contrast to the love, nurture, and affirmation I experienced with my mom. I lived in fear of making simple mistakes in front of him, because of the scorn and the ridicule I would undoubtedly receive. I can still remember how angry he became one time when I spilled milk while trying to pour it into a bowl of cereal. He reacted as if I’d done it intentionally, as if there were no possible way a small child who was paying attention could ever miss the bowl.
I learned to walk on eggshells around him to avoid arousing his temper and the piercing words that would fly out of his mouth when he was displeased. The fear of upsetting him only increased my anxiety, as well as the odds that I would make even more mistakes that angered him. As I grew older, spilling milk wasn’t so much an issue anymore, but my father still found ways to call my life into question or to reiterate his vision of success for my life, regardless of how different it was from my own.
The older I got and the more accomplished I became, the more our relationship seemed to improve. As my success became more evident and undeniable, his critiques seemed to lessen. He still found occasions to throw darts of inadequacy my way, but I learned to disregard them. I had adopted this principle from the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother” (Deut. 5:16). I was counting on the corresponding promise that doing so meant things would go well with me. That verse helped me and called me to take the high road in our relationship, regardless of whether I thought my father’s actions deserved honor. I believed that I should honor him not because of how he treated me but simply because he was my father—imperfect and all. I was determined to think the highest thoughts concerning him and also sought to understand him better. I told myself that, considering the difficulties of his own upbringing, he was doing the best he could by me.
In anticipation of this particular Father’s Day, I decided to do something special for my dad. I knew he liked deep-sea fishing, so I decided to coordinate a trip to celebrate him on Father’s Day. This was a big step for me. I loved my father, but we hadn’t gotten past the awkwardness of spending any real length of time together. On this trip, we’d be on a boat together for several hours, miles away from shore—this should give you a good idea of how much I was really putting myself out there. Nevertheless, in the name of honor, I picked up the phone and extended the invitation.
Dad seemed a little surprised by my offer, but he accepted the invitation and told me to keep him posted with the details. His positive response was a huge relief to me, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. Just presenting an idea to him that was acceptable—without critique—was a victory. Having it be something that honored him and would ultimately please him gave me a sense that things were beginning to turn around in our relationship. I felt as if this part of my life was finally making the kind of positive turn I’d experienced in so many other areas.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Things didn’t exactly work out as I had planned.
Two weeks later I phoned my father to give him the details of our trip. I was excited to have worked out the logistics, the trip was set, and all we needed to do was show up. However, I didn’t get the enthusiastic response I had expected. The response I got was jarringly familiar.
“I’ve made other plans for Father’s Day,” Dad said. “It’s your fault this isn’t going to work out, because you didn’t give me the details sooner.”
I was speechless. And yet I told myself I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, it wasn’t unlike my father to be erratic and critical. He didn’t have much of a filter for what he said, nor did he show his sensitive side very often. I told myself I should be perfectly okay with Dad just being Dad in this scenario, as he had been in so many others. I even told myself that I was okay. But I wasn’t okay, and the accumulated brokenness from our relationship was about to come crashing down on me.
As Father’s Day approached, my mother asked me how plans for the fishing trip were shaping up. I told her that Dad had backed out but that it was okay because I really didn’t want to go in the first place. Later, when a close friend asked about the trip, I was beginning to give a similar answer when I felt overcome by a deep emotion I had trouble identifying. The feeling was both unfamiliar and familiar. Something that had been buried within me was rising to the surface, and it was no longer going to be quiet.
To be honest, it felt like there was a screaming monster inside me that had suddenly been roused. This intruder beneath the surface was now setting off alarm bells that reverberated throughout every part of me. I tried to pray the intruder away and even tried to distract myself from it, but it wouldn’t leave. This unstoppable force was disrupting my life, and I could not shake it.
With Father’s Day just around the corner, I finally admitted that what was going on inside me would not simply go away. My peace was gone, my thoughts were fragmented, and to make matters worse, it was now Sunday morning, and in less than two hours I would stand before my congregation for the first of our two Sunday morning services with an enormous problem: I had nothing to say. Whatever this monster within me was, it cut off the flow of love and clarity I relied on week in and week out to prepare and deliver my messages to the congregation.
I felt overwhelmed with anxiety, but I was trying very hard to keep it all together. I was terrified to confront what was inside me. It was rage and pain and grief, and I didn’t want to deal with any of it. If I took a real look at it—if I truly locked eyes with this monster—I wasn’t sure I would come out of the encounter in one piece. I didn’t know who I would become or what my life would look like if I lost the fight. I reasoned it would be better for me to function through my dysfunction until I had the wherewithal to handle it, but now I was up against the clock. The weekend messages I gave to the church were built on personal openness and transparency, and I knew I couldn’t hide what I was going through beneath the surface. I was trapped.
As I stepped into the shower, I was exhausted, confused, and out of options. And yet somewhere in my heart I heard the whisper of a loving voice. It’s okay not to be okay. In that moment, everything seemed to shift into slow motion, and my heart began to shift as well. Those whispered words were the divine key that released me from the shackles of fear and numbness.
It’s okay not to be okay. As the warm water washed over me, those gentle healing words washed through me. I let go of my need to have it all together and surrendered to a process I knew would lead me toward wholeness. I also knew it would require facing the monster within. A newfound vulnerability came over me, and I began to sob uncontrollably. For the first time, I allowed myself to feel the emotion I’d buried when Dad told me he’d made other plans for Father’s Day. The monster that rose up in me that day was Hurt, and its name was well deserved. It’s okay not to be okay. I let it all go and gave myself permission to cry.
Standing in the shower that morning, I cried about the phone call with my dad, but it was actually a 30-year-old cry—and long overdue. Somewhere along the way, I learned to stuff my emotions and to anesthetize the pain of rejection by telling myself, “I’m okay,” even when I wasn’t. The monster within was an accumulation of all the unprocessed feelings I’d buried over the years every time I felt rejected by my father. As I cried, my hurt erupted like a slow-motion volcano, and yet as messy as it was, I felt a healing relief with each sob.
We are never okay when we pretend that hurt doesn’t hurt. Hurt always needs to be acknowledged and addressed. It doesn’t just disappear, no matter how deeply we bury it or how much we try to convince ourselves we’re okay in spite of it. When we fail to process our pain in a healthy way, it becomes ill-processed by default, deepening the damage of the original wound. That’s what happens when the unhealthy layers of denial under which we bury our hurt stand in the way of our wholeness. What I experienced that morning in the shower was a cracking open of those layers. As my defenses crumbled, the light and hope of wholeness illuminated my pain and began to heal a wound I had been avoiding and denying for decades.
Wholeness by international thought leader and pastor Touré Roberts is about removing invisible boundaries from our lives that keep us from realizing our highest potential. Roberts brilliantly lays forth the truth that in order to live an outer life without limits, we have to uncover and address the inner limitations that hide in our blindspots.
In the book, Roberts explains that we can’t always choose the experiences that keep us from being whole, but we can take control of our lives today and bring healing to any broken area. Wholeness is filled with wisdom garnered from Touré’s own life—raised by a single mom, narrowly escaping the trappings of inner city life, and finding success in corporate America. His insight is further broadened by his role as founder of one of the most influential churches in the nation, with over fourteen years pastoring thousands of millennials, couples, families, and a diverse group of individuals. Wholeness will take you on a transformational journey that won’t leave you the same. Concluding with a “Wholeness Test”, this book will help you track and maintain your progress while walking out your journey to your full potential. Learn more at www.AreYouWhole.com.
Touré Roberts is founding pastor of The Potter’s House at One LA, one of the fastest growing churches in Los Angeles, and senior pastor of The Potter’s House of Denver. In addition to Wholeness, he is the author of Purpose Awakening and is a sought-after international speaker. Roberts has established the Artist Resource Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides artists and marginalized youth with free tools, knowledge, and practical training. Roberts is the son-in-law of megachurch pastor and author T. D. Jakes. He and his wife, Sarah, live in both LA and Denver with their six children.
Photo of Touré Roberts by Bobby Quillard. Adapted from the original under a creative commons license.